Women Discuss Immigration Issues

Mar 19, 2019

The conversation was part of Cal U's Women's History Month programming.


Emily Pence discusses immigration during an event on March 19.


In the midst of a national conversation about immigration policies in the United States, Cal U hosted two speakers on the subject as part of Women’s History Month. 

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, roughly 22,000 refugees were resettled in the United States in 2018. There are more than 43 million immigrants out of 323 million people. The undocumented immigrant population is estimated at 11 million. 

Emily Pence and Amy Lyons spoke about some of the issues via Skype on March 19 in Duda Hall. 

A service coordinator for Immigrant Services and Connections, Pence works for the Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh. 

She connects refugees facing language or cultural barriers to services such as housing, public benefits, medical services, education, or childcare. 

An artist originally from Pittsburgh, Lyons is a parent of three children who have attended Brooklyn Arbor in New York. 

Her middle son is in fourth grade and has been with the same Spanish dual-language class since kindergarten. Maria, the mother of one of his classmates, has cancer; the father has been deported. 

She and other parents have become involved with legal agencies with hopes of the father gaining temporary re-entry. They’ve also raised $40,000 through a GoFundMe site. Lyons signed legal documents to be a temporary guardian if the mother becomes incapacitated. 

“It’s been grueling for them, I can’t even understand how Maria does it each day keeping her house in order and finding food for her children,” she said.

Lyons, who is working on a children’s book about the life of a 12-year-old German immigrant in Williamsburg in 1901, believes the uneasy political climate has roused people. 

“Maria’s voice has kind of been amplified because so many people have been outraged over the process of illegal immigrants becoming naturalized and getting any kind of residency,” she said.  “I think there’s been a lot of pushback because so many illegal immigrants are doing the daily work of running the city.” 

Pence emphasized language and cultural barriers, and how daily life — using a credit card, operating an elevator, filling out an application, using a restroom — can include serious obstacles. 

“These are things that we take for granted but these people have never seen,” she said. “Even translated, these can be very troublesome.” 

Though she’s seen more rude behavior over the past couple of years Pence believes language access, including the use of interpreters, has become better. She added that many refugees and immigrants are adept at starting own businesses and cited the ethnic grocery and restaurant stores in Pittsburgh. 

“There’s a lot of successes and they are amazing and heart-warming,” she said. “These people have an awful lot to offer our society.”